MONTREAL – The Didier Drogba show has begun.
Whereas chaos reigned supreme upon his Wednesday arrival, the Montreal Impact's newest signing was introduced in a more disciplined fashion Thursday night at Stade Saputo, where he met the Montreal press and roughly a thousand season-ticket holders alongside club president Joey Saputo and head coach Frank Klopas.
Drogba didn’t need to charm the crowd, which was eating out of his hand already. But he did just the same, smiling, speaking eloquently and cracking jokes in both English and French.
As the only French-speaking market in MLS, Montreal had an advantage on other cities.
“This cultural diversity is important,” Drogba said. “I quite simply felt like getting to know the city. I was won over by the project and by the work that the president has already started with the club, looking to give back to the community through soccer. It’s a little bit like what I do with my foundation.
“My children are bilingual,” he continued. “I know there are superb schools here. It also went into my decision.”
As did Drogba’s old club, Chelsea. Jose Mourinho’s team set up their preseason camp in Montreal, using the facilities at the Impact's new training center and flying to their games in the United States as needed.
The Blues, Drogba said, “influenced his choice” to become a Designated Player for Montreal.
“[Nemanja] Matic, Eden Hazard, the coach, they all said good things about the facilities,” Drogba said. “The sports facilities matter a lot. Few clubs have such fine facilities. It matters because you spend a lot of time training, so it’s important to be in a comfortable setting, a healthy environment.”
That training center is the next step for Drogba. He will meet his teammates on Friday, though there is no word yet on whether he’ll take part in the training session. And if it was up to him, he’d “travel with the team on Friday” – perhaps flying the plane himself – to face New York City FC.
“But more seriously, it's almost been two-and-a-half months that I haven’t played,” Drogba said. “I’ll need time. We’ll see with the coach. … I will eventually play, but I want to be able to contribute to the team and not be kind of a burden. I need to get ready.”
Drogba went on to add, however, that he wouldn’t be here if he doubted that he could still go, and his new head coach isn’t the least bit worried.
“I know that he has a lot left to give as a player, and I know that he will not only help our team on the field, but also help our club grow,” Klopas said.
Added Saputo: “His arrival will be beneficial on every level, on and off the field. Our past success in international competition has given the Montreal Impact some relevance outside of our country, opening doors to players like Didier to choose to play here.”
Drogba watched some of those CONCACAF Champions League games. Describing the team’s run as “extraordinary,” he added that such experiences are those he seeks in Montreal. Trophies are his “Canadian dream,” he replied to a reporter making a parallel with the proverbial American dream.
Drogba could have chased that American dream. His MLS rights first belonged to Chicago, who ultimately signed and traded Drogba to Montreal for general and targeted allocation money on Monday.
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Asked how much of a potential destination the Fire had been, Drogba instead chose to list his reasons for coming to Montreal again: the discussions with the president about the club’s project, the opinion of his Chelsea teammates and what he’d heard about the city from friends.
“I still had many clubs approaching me,” Drogba said. “There were discussions with MLS. But many parameters mattered to me.”
One of those, as told to the media by sporting director Nick De Santis on Tuesday, was Drogba’s desire not to feel the weight of the entire club resting on his sole shoulders. Nevertheless, Drogba is without a doubt the Impact’s superstar now.
But he’s made friends in the locker room already, without even meeting his teammates. Dilly Duka agreed to pass his No. 11 jersey over to Drogba, a gesture that Drogba later gratefully acknowledged in a one-on-one-interview with TVA Sports. Clearly, the international superstar wants to be one of the boys.
“I wasn't a superstar before I joined all those big teams – Marseille, Chelsea,” Drogba said. “I know how it is. A superstar, it’s only the way people look at you. But in the dressing room, we’re all the same. … All I can try to do is to give back to those players who want to learn. And I want to learn, also, from them.”